Sunday, 5 August 2012
Mansion and Tweed
As Father Ignatius drove into the church car park he was followed by a top of the range very expensive vehicle which stopped some distance away.
“That’s unusual” he thought, “I’ve never seen this car here before!”
Out came a tall well built man in his early sixties. He was immaculately dressed in a good quality tweed suit, white shirt and dark tie, and a heavy woolen dark blue overcoat. He locked his car and walked towards Father Ignatius.
“Good morning …” he said in an impeccable English accent, “are you the Padre here?”
“Yes … I am the Parish priest …” replied Father Ignatius, “can I help you?”
“I’m Colonel Swanwick …” replied the man stretching out his hand “retired!”
The priest shook the man’s hand and was impressed by the firm strong handshake.
“I’d like a few moments of your time please Padre …” he said, “is there anywhere we can talk?”
“Yes … of course … you’d better come to my office …”
Moments later and the priest had taken the Colonel up the stairs in the Parish House and into his office.
“I had a Catholic Padre in my regiment years ago …” said Colonel Swanwick sitting down in the armchair by the window, “fine man indeed …”
“Are you new in town?” asked Father Ignatius sitting at his desk, “I’ve not seen you in church before!”
“Oh no old boy …” chuckled the Colonel in his perfect distinguished accent, “I’m not Catholic you know … I was brought up Presbyterian … same Army I suppose … different regiment what?” He laughed heartily.
“Very amusing …” the priest said feigning a weak smile.
“Any way … I don’t go to church anymore … haven’t been in years. Well Padre … I need your help. It’s something that only someone in your regiment can deal with so to speak …
“You see … not being Catholic myself this is a little peculiar for me and I don’t claim to understand it … not a bit of it, I tell you!”
“What is it you don’t understand?” asked Father Ignatius patiently.
“Well … it’s this friend of mine … I’ve known him for years … we served together in Africa many years ago. Fine fellow of a man I tell you. An excellent soldier indeed! You know … he saved my life years ago when we were under attack in an ambush and I was pinned down with a bullet in my leg. He came out there under enemy fire and pulled me back to safety. He is Catholic you know …”
“I see …”
“I haven’t seen him for years … we correspond every now and then … the odd Christmas card every year, that sort of thing … no more. I’m not one for a lot of meaningless correspondence and all that … too busy old boy. I only write when it’s important to do so and none of this casual chitchat … waste of time and money I say!
“Well, I got news that the poor fellow has died after a short illness … I received a letter from his wife a few days ago …”
“I’m sorry to hear it …”
“Yes quite …” continued the Colonel, “damn inconvenient you know … I can’t possibly attend the funeral. I have an important meeting at our Regimental Reunion Club. It’s down in Wales somewhere or other … the funeral that is, not the Regimental Reunion … that is held at the Grand Hotel in town. Have you ever been to Wales Padre?”
“Yes … several times …”
“Anyway … It’s too far to go to Wales for a funeral … once you’re dead and gone you’re gone … that’s what I always say … no need for ceremonials and all that. Funerals are held for the living not the dead. It’s just a get together to make the living feel better about the departed … Waste of time and money … just like writing meaningless letters and correspondence …
“So that’s where you come in … Being a Catholic just like this friend of mine. I’d like you to help me out of a tight spot as it were!” The Colonel smiled in expectation.
“Do you want me to attend the funeral for you?” asked the priest somewhat confused.
“Oh no … goodness no …” laughed Colonel Swanwick heartily, “it’s in Wales you know … too far to go for a funeral …
“I have been told that you Catholics have a Mass card … is that what you call it? It’s been suggested to me that I should send his wife a Mass card. Apparently they’re not available from the shops and you obtain them from a priest. Is that right?”
“I understand …” replied Father Ignatius as eventually he got to the purpose of this man’s visit, “you wish to offer a Mass for the repose of his soul.”
“I’m not sure I understand what you mean exactly … but that’s right. That’s what I’ve been told. What is it that you do?”
“It’s a tradition in the Catholic Church to offer Masses for others for any intentions. Sometimes people offer Masses in thanksgiving to God, and quite often for the dead. It’s a practice that originates in the very early Church. Inscriptions were discovered on tombs in ancient Roman catacombs in the second century providing evidence of this practice.”
“I see … it’s like paying someone to pray for you. I remember reading about it in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales …” chuckled the Colonel.
“It’s not as crudely as you put it …” continued Father Ignatius patiently, “the Catholic Church considers Mass as the greatest possible prayer of intercession. So we offer the Mass to God for that particular intention … for example for the repose of the person’s soul …”
“Oh I do apologize Padre …” interrupted the Colonel, “I meant no offence … I can understand I suppose … it’s like asking someone to put in a good word for you with the Almighty …”
“I shall offer a Mass for your friend” said the priest patiently, “you can choose one of these cards to send to his widow …”
“That’s jolly decent of you old boy … thank you. I’ll take this one here … how much is it?”
“You don’t have to pay anything … I will sign the card and I’ll need your friend’s name …”
“Oh no ... I insist … how much is the card … and the Mass too of course!” said Colonel Swanwick rather embarrassed about his faux pas.
“Well … if you insist …” Father Ignatius said with a smile to ease the tension a little, “the cost involved is that you have to give money to a charity, any charity you wish … and the amount you give should be commensurate to how much this friend of yours meant to you. How much you really valued his friendship and what he did to you.”
“Good Heavens … that should prove expensive considering he saved my life …” chuckled the Colonel, “but I’ll gladly do it. I promise you of this.
“I’d also like to invite you for afternoon tea at my house. Just to show there’s no hard feelings and all that old boy. We’ve just moved into Happy Acres a couple of months ago … it’s the house just by the Anglican Church out in the next village … do you know it?”
“Yes … of course …” replied Father Ignatius recalling to mind the large mansion he’d passed frequently whilst visiting the vicar at the village Anglican Church.
“Jolly good … jolly good,” repeated the Colonel, “I’ll check dates with my wife … she’s in charge of Happy Acres HQ … she’s a fine old girl you know … does a lot of work at the Anglican Church … choir practice … bell ringing … garden fêtes and all that. The vicar there knows her well … Reverend Fellowes … you’ve probably come across him in your travels … different regiment yet again. Anyway … I’ll check dates with my wife and ring you back to fix a spot of tea and cream cakes.”
As Colonel Swanwick drove out of the car park Father Ignatius wondered pensively about the Catholic Church’s doctrines and traditions.
“I can understand someone like the Colonel being confused …” he thought, “but do we do enough to explain to our parishioners why we do things the way we do them; and the real meanings behind our doctrines and traditions? A good subject for a sermon I think!”